A city panel under city Mayor Pat Branson sees a disparity in the livability and beauty of Kodiak Island vis-à-vis the less-appealing reality of its downtown. The real nut of the problem say panel members is that the downtown is simply not a place conducive to spending much time and has begun to go to seed somewhat.
The Kodiak Downtown Revitalization Committee addresses beautification, economic development, and social and safety issues for the city. Over a nine-month period it has been developing conceptual city programs that, Branson hopes, will be able to gain the city’s council’s approval in the coming months and go well into the future in terms of implementation.
“People will see changes. And that will make them excited and want to get on board. Hey -- you never know what Kodiak might look like,” Branson told the Daily Mirror. “We’re going to give it to the city manager who is going to take it to her staff and then look at this to see what’s feasible to give the these conceptual ideas a reality check on what can be done,” said Branson.
The crux of the matter is public involvement, planners say.
“We live in this ridiculously beautiful place but our downtown is not necessarily reflecting that. People are not comfortable being downtown and spending time down there. There has not been a lot of pride taken in making our downtown beautiful and we’re trying to change that,” said Katie St. John, chair of the beautification subcommittee.
“We really want to increase the feeling of ownership downtown and make people really feel like it’s their place to come and spend some time. It’s not just for tourists. It’s not just a place to go and spend some time at a business and then leave as quickly as possible.”
Branson vowed to have the city’s downtown revitalization committee continue after its recommendations are put before the city council later this spring. “As the mayor, I would like this committee to continue the work and meet with the council. We have a bunch of great volunteers here who are willing to do some work. It’s been very productive,” she said.
Monty Hawver, head of the subcommittee for social and safety issues, sees one of the city’s chief concerns to be the lack of a day shelter and an inpatient rehab-like facility for addicts and alcoholics. “The community is definitely in a worse place than it was when we had a day shelter and when we had inpatient treatment programs,” said Hawver. “It’s very, very obvious that we’re in a worse place now and while it might be hard to connect the two, it doesn’t take a rough stretch of the imagination to see that those two went away and the drug and alcohol problem picked up substantially.”
The previous day shelter, the Living Room, left Kodiak several years ago for a large rehabilitation facility in Oregon.
Hawver also wants to see the city add a shower and laundry service to the city’s offerings to visitors, especially fishermen. “We’re one of the few ports of call of this size, with this many boats, that doesn’t have showers and laundry available to the fisherman or folks that work downtown… Years ago there was a private party that was furnishing them. That business has ceased to exist so that now there is none available. It ceases to exist long enough ago so that it’s very apparent that no one is going to jump in and make that happen, so that it’s most likely going to be a public function rather than a private organization,” he said.
Both Hawver’s subcommittee and the beautification panel are eyeing the cleanup of St. Paul’s Plaza downtown. St. John reports that the revitalization committees hope to revamp the space, currently overgrown with weeds and the occasional loiterer, into a pocket park.
“We’ve had some issues there with loitering, with people not feeling like it’s somewhere they can take their lunch break and spend an hour out in nice weather,” said St. John. “So we’re looking at definitely redesigning that. We’re looking at pulling out the vegetation that’s in there now, or maybe flattening out those beds and putting in something else, even if it’s temporary, to make people feel like they have a stake. All that work would be done on a community day where anybody in town could come and participate.”
The economic development subcommittee, chaired by Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Trevor Brown, is looking at tackling downtown harbor graffiti, reviewing downtown parking requirements, creating surveys for downtown businesses on all of the issues being presented by the revitalization committee, and hopes to have long-term solutions on attracting business owners from the midtown/Mill Bay Rd area and reducing absentee landlordism. Brown was unavailable for comment as of press time.
Kodiak might not be a contender for one of the most glorious downtowns in the western U.S., but, as these revitalization volunteers hope, it could be much more cohesive, livable, and scenic. “It won’t be like Boulder, Colorado,” said Branson. “We’re going to have a nice waterfront. We’re going to have a nice walkable area. We have a lot of history here. We have a museum row. We have the Alutiiq history and the Russian history that we need to show off, and the Maritime Museum. We’re a major fishing port in the country so why shouldn’t we show it off?” said Branson.